It is a common occurrence that the contributions and accomplishments of women are often overlooked and underrepresented in history. It is a disservice to these women and future generations who miss out on learning about the powerful and inspiring women who have shaped our world. Women like Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm, and Claudette Colvin are examples of women who have broken barriers and made significant contributions to the civil rights movement, politics, and beyond, yet their stories are not widely known.
We must give these women the recognition they deserve and learn from them. By highlighting their contributions, we can help to ensure that their legacy lives on and inspire future generations of women to strive for greatness. In this post, we will shine a light on five remarkable black women and their contributions to history.
1. Amelia Boynton Robinson
Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1911, Amelia Boynton Robinson became an active member of the women's suffrage movement at a young age. In 1934, at 23, she became one of the few registered African American voters in an era where literacy tests were used to discriminate against Black voters. Despite facing discrimination, Robinson used her status as a registered voter to assist other African Americans in registering to vote.
In 1964, Robinson sought a seat in congress from Alabama. She was the first woman to run for office in Alabama and won. The following year, Robinson was one of the civil rights leaders who led the march from Selma to Montgomery. Robinson suffered from being gassed and beaten during the march and her photograph lying injured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was widely circulated, which helped galvanize support for the Civil Rights Movement. The march was known as Bloody Sunday.
Robinson's efforts in the Civil Rights Movement were recognized internationally, leading her to co-found the International Civil Rights Solidarity Movement. She received numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation Medal of Freedom, and the National Visionary Leadership Award. She was also honoured on the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma.
In her later years, she travelled the country and the world as a speaker for the Schiller Institute to advocate for civil and human rights. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
2. Claudette Colvin
Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl from Montgomery, Alabama, made history by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, nine months before Rosa Parks' similar act of civil disobedience. While Parks is often remembered as the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Colvin's courageous act of defiance was one of many by Black women on the same bus system.
A portrait of young Claudette Colvin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Despite facing fines and legal repercussions, Colvin's actions sparked a legal challenge to discriminatory laws and laid the foundation for the civil rights movement. Colvin's actions were significant as she was one of the four women plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the court case that effectively abolished bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama. Her story was the subject of a book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.
3. Ida B Wells
Ida B. Wells was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement. She was the founder of the National Association of Colored Women's Club, an organization that addressed issues related to civil rights and women's suffrage. She was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Portrait of Ida B Wells.
She is best known for her tireless efforts to combat racism and injustice through her writing and activism, particularly her crusade against lynching in the United States. She travelled internationally, giving speeches, writing articles and publishing pamphlets to raise awareness about the brutal and senseless murders of African Americans. Despite the dangerous nature of her work, Wells never wavered in her commitment to fighting for justice and equality for all people. In her later years, Wells devoted her efforts towards urban reform in the bustling city of Chicago. She passed away on March 25th, 1931.
4. Mary Church Terrell
Mary Church Terrell was a pioneering figure in the fight for racial equality and women's suffrage. She was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, earning both her Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Her life's work focused on the idea of racial uplift. This belief held that through education, work, and community activism, black individuals could help end discrimination and improve the lives of all African Americans. Her motto "Lifting as we climb" encapsulated this belief and became the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, an organization she helped found in 1896 and served as president of from 1896 to 1901.
Portrait of Mary Church Terrell.
In 1940, she published her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, outlining her experiences with discrimination. In 1948, Terrell became the first black member of the American Association of University Women, after winning an anti-discrimination lawsuit.
In 1950, at age 86, she challenged segregation in public places. She was victorious when, in 1953, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated eating facilities were unconstitutional, a breakthrough in the civil rights movement. Terrell passed on four years later.
5. Shirley Chisholm
Portrait of Shirley Chisholm.
Shirley Chisholm was a trailblazer in the world of politics. In 1969, she became the first Black congresswoman, serving seven terms. Chisholm was also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969. Chisholm's achievements were not limited to Congress, she was a history-maker as well. She became the first African American woman to run for president of the United States in 1972.
Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm was a champion of minority education and employment opportunities and a vocal opponent of the draft. After leaving Congress in 1983, she taught at Mount Holyoke College and was popular on the lecture circuit, continuing to inspire and empower people from all walks of life. Her legacy continues to inspire future generations of leaders.
The five Black women highlighted in this tribute—Mary Church Terrell, Shirley Chisholm, Claudette Colvin, Amelia Boynton Robinson, and Ida B. Wells—are just a small sample of the countless Black women who have made significant contributions to society. They have fought for civil rights, education, women's rights, and equality, and their legacies continue to inspire change today. We must continue to lift as we climb and honour these women and all of the other unsung heroes of our history.